Editorials

Editorial: When politics and charity mix

President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast
President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast Bloomberg

President Donald Trump says he wants to repeal the decades-old ban on political endorsements by churches. Ending the ban would “allow our representatives of faith to speak freely,” he said last week.

Trump has wandered into a political and constitutional thicket. Let’s not stop at churches: The laws surrounding political activity by all charities are a messy disaster, and Congress should commit itself to overhauling them as soon as possible.

Thousands of private groups now claim nonprofit status in order to take tax-deductible contributions. In return, they’re required to stay clear of direct political activities.

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Many nonprofits scoff at the rule. Partisan charities, some close to home, regularly battle over public policy, innocently claiming they’re “educating” the public. Then they take the tax-deductible cash.

It’s a sham. It hurts real charities. It costs billions in higher taxes to make up for the lost revenue. And it lets churches and charities constantly test the line between politics and tax law.

Social welfare nonprofits are even worse. That’s where political operatives dump dark money — donations aren’t deductible, but the donors’ identities are secret. So much for open government.

Social welfare groups were also at the center of the clash between tea party groups and the IRS. We must get the taxman out of the job of judging political speech, and we must insist on transparency in politics. If you’re going to open this door, Mr. President, open it all the way. We all have a right to speak freely, but none of us has a right to do it tax-free.

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